URL Optimization: 5 Best Practices for SEO
The following screenshot is a sample URL with ideal anatomy for site SEO.
When you talk about SEO in terms of content on a web page it is most often concerning the keywords. The URL of a page is an integral part of SEO and must also contain keywords that are consistent with the other content on the website.
The following are some things that you need to consider when structuring your URLs for SEO:
1. Words Used in URLs:
As shown in the diagram above, your URL consists of some important elements that require the presence of keywords to gain optimum SEO benefits for your site. Within the different elements of a URL, the domain, sub-domain, folder and page elements can contain keywords. It is not mandatory to use keywords but if you can name folders and pages with keywords that appear in the content of that particular page, search engine crawlers will easily index and return the pages for the appropriate keywords.
Along with keywords, there are other factors that need to be considered for the words in the URL structure:
Descriptive URLs: If you do not use keywords, use words that efficiently describe the contents of the page. An obvious URL scores high in usability and often in SEO.
Shorter URL Length: The fewer words the better. A short URL is quicker to type and read. Avoid using words such as a, our, for, the, etc. Also, the fewer the words the more value each word receives from a search engine spider.
Important Keywords at the Beginning: Put the most important words in the beginning of the URL as search engine spiders do not give much significance to words toward the end of a longer URL.
No Repetition: Do not repeat words, for example, a section and sub-section name in the URL.
Rather than this:
Name the sub-section differently, like this:
Not Necessarily Identical to Page Title: In the case of a blog page, the URL is not required to be exactly the same as the page title or the title of the blog.
Unnecessary URL Parameters: Parameters such as ?, & and % must be avoided in URLs. Read our post on A Guide to Clean URLs for SEO and Usability to learn more.
Long Keywords: For pages with long keywords, avoid using category and sub-category names in the URLs.
Keyword Stuffing: Do not stuff your URL with keywords.
Capital Letters: Do not use CAPITALS in words in URLs.
2. Dynamic vs. Static URLs:
A dynamic URL is one that is created by a CMS or web server. The page element as a whole does not exist until the browser requests the URL. Once the URL is requested, the CMS dynamically generates the URL with lots of parameters and unwanted characters, making the URL non-SEO-friendly and causing it to look something like the example below:
With an advanced CMS, such as WordPress, one can change the permalink structure and include the page name/title in the URL structure.
Using a static URL that is human-edited while keeping in mind all the factors discussed above will assist both people and search engine crawlers in deciphering your URLs easily.
3. Hyphens vs. Underscores:
As discussed in our earlier post titled Underscores in URLs: Why are they Not Recommended? Google considers hyphens to be word separators but have not yet programmed their search bots to consider underscores as word separators. It does not make a difference if you use underscores or hyphens for search engines such as Bing, however, we recommend you use hyphens in your URL structure or no word separators at all. Underscores in URLs are not SEO-friendly nor are they user-friendly. If you already have URLs that contain underscores it is better to leave them untouched rather than changing them, as these pages may have already been indexed by search engines and have an established link structure. If you use 301 redirects to redirect a URL with underscores to hyphenated versions of the same URL you will lose some link juice, which is not ideal. Watch for our upcoming blog on link juice for more information on that.
4. Use of Sub-domains:
Use sub-domains for completely different parts of your website, such as a blog page that receives user-generated content on a regular basis. You must remember that sub-domains have the potential to be considered a separate entity and not a part of your website, hence, it is not advised to use multiple sub-domains. In the case of a blog, you can build an extensive interlinking structure with the main page and not lose link juice. Be careful of using other sub-domains, such as category pages on an e-commerce site, for example, woman.domain.com/blue-dresses.html. Although the URL is reader friendly, search engines will not consider it to be a part of the main domain, thus, your website's link juice is segregated.
5. Duplicate URLs:
Make sure to avoid duplicate URLs. When URLs are dynamically generated, sometimes duplicate URLs are created for the same content. Your website may have www and non-www versions of your URL pointing to the same content, thus also creating a duplicate content problem. Often times duplicate content is created unintentionally by session ids, affiliate codes and sorting options (for example, sort by price and sort by color options on e-commerce sites) in URLs. There are two ways to cope with the duplicate URLs. One is to choose the best URL and add a rel canonical tag to the other duplicate URLs. The other is to add 301 redirects, most often in the case of redirecting multiple home page URLs to one preferred version. This causes less confusion and also prevents your site from duplicate content penalties.
URL cleaning and optimization for easy indexing and navigation by search engines is an important part of your on-site SEO. It is worth spending time on your URLs for both SEO and usability purposes.